Photographer, Videographer, Writer, Motorcycle Racer, Dakar Rally Finisher and BRAKE Magazine's big dog, Llewelyn really likes to do things involving motorcycles. He also likes bicycles, coffee, pop punk and making horrendous puns.
I’m currently sat in the aisle seat of a Delta flight from LA to London. It’s been two full days since I climbed down from the KTM 1190 Adventure R that carried me half way across the USA. I’m undergoing a condition informally known as ‘Post Epic Ride Societal Reintegration Depression’. The transition from the ripping across the empty, stunning landscapes of Utah into the crowded, angry sinkhole that is the LA traffic system, hit me hard.
The problem is born out of two things. Travelling aboard a motorcycle is a liberating, beautiful experience. It’s so free, controlled only by laws on roaming and access to gasoline. The world is your oyster. You can investigate every option, travel where others can’t and take in huge areas in little time. Life becomes self-legislating. You can stop where the spot looks good, climb to the top of every mountain and score huge adrenaline hits along the way. That is the first half of the problem.
The second half of my depression is caused by ignorance. Ignorance and a lack of knowledge is a brilliant way to travel. The less you know, the more amazed you’ll be. Travelling without prior investigation brings its problems but the heightened explosion of awe is worth every hurdle that needs to be clambered over. You’ll miss things but the sights you see, the smells you absorb and the trails you ride will be exponentially more immense. The intensity of riding into Zion National Park without knowing there was even a cliff in the area is enough to drive a man crazy upon the return to civilisation.
The USA has never been a place that I particularly desired to explore. It’s so close to home and wholly similar in culture to my upbringing that I was inherently put off. I’ve grown up with US culture in front of me always; it feels like home. I couldn’t be more wrong. What no one ever bothered to tell me is that United States of America is epic. The scenery is ballistically huge, the riding as fun as anything you’ll find and despite it’s gentile western culture, it’s geared for being outside.
Riding from Deadwood, South Dakota to L.A, California, on paper at least, is an odd decision. Attending KTM’s Adventure Rider Rally and returning the bike to their headquarters is a better way of putting it. South Dakota, Wyoming, a slice of Colorado, a big ‘ol chunk of Utah and a dash past Vegas was the core of the plan. Justin had the whole route dialled into Rever, that was a far as my questioning went.
Wyoming sucked. I’ve no doubt that it’s a great place, brimming with mid-western hospitality, but my experience wasn’t that.
It was something far more like; straight road, 35ºC, 50mph wind from my right hand side, bad burrito from a gas station, more wind from the right, more heat.
Slight bend in the road. More heat. More wind from the right. Flat scenery.
Dog on a Harley. More wind.
In fact, the wind blew from the right regardless of our orientation. Oh, and we found a fireworks shop that had only dial up internet and a crazy, endearing old lady owner. It was 500 miles I’ll never get back.
The further from Wyoming we travelled, the more the world changed. Slowly the flat lands transitioned to rolling hills and as the dirt squeezed together, the altitude climbed and everything became more pleasant.
Eventually our path turned to dirt and around the Utah border the scenery exploded upward in a jagged, brutal, glacier eroded formation. The road across the state border had been primed for us by the heavens. The dust was acceptable and the grip fantastic. We hunted each other for 25 miles of flowing dirt road, ripping on the throttle cable the whole way. And then we met the bull.
Cows and bulls don’t typically strike fear into a Euro. We have cows everywhere and they’re not angry. They’re placid, perpetually pregnant and full of milk. Moving quickly and taking shots are blokes on bikes isn’t high up their list of thing to do. The three bulls sat in the road, were p*ssed, looking to make a cow pregnant and pretty damn keen to let everyone in the valley know of this.
Two angry bulls screaming at each other made for a nervous us. We edged closer before backing off. Some 20 minutes passed with us sat just up trail from them, waiting for a gap to appear. It did, as one bull decided to shout in the ear of his mate just off the track. That left us with an opening. A car width gap off trail from the big bloke of the group. I went for it, figuratively shitting myself the whole way.
I nipped onto the grass verge. Ol’ Bull eyeballed me the whole way. I was swift. I felt pretty calm until I was alongside the thing. HOLY… It’s horns we leg length swords. The thing was massive. Like, Ford F 250 big. WHAT AN ADRENALINE RUSH.
The bright red sand stone began to distract me from the riding. The epic winding mountain pass over the border, made slick by the dousing of recent rain. Sketchy roads eventually opened out to the sights of Moab, Utah. It was a special moment.
Moab and the surrounding area is unlike like anything else. The ground is hard, ancient and brutal. The boulders are the size of buildings, not rocks. The Jurassic rock has outrageously high grip levels and the landscape stretches as far as one needs to see. When you’re surrounded with incredible riding it’d be rude not to dabble.
Heading out into the slick rock trail is an awesome experience. Riding on the bare rock, crawling up outrageously steep climbs and working your way to the top of the world is one of the most enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have on a big bike. The trail weaved across the cuttings in the rock, marked by lines of paint and touched with the golden glow of the afternoon sun.
As the sun closed out, epic clouds took over. Flashes of lighting lit the sky. It was a grand backdrop to an awesome day. Fire. Marshmallows. The comforting, warm, sweatiness of a tent. Quality.
Green River and the Desert.
The beauty of Utah is the ever transforming landscape. 100 Miles can move you from a land that looks like the moon, to jagged and powdery high desert. Another 100 miles will see the earth thrust from beneath, pushing upward aboard primordial, weather beaten profusions.
High desert is an experience that every person must enjoy once. The rugged and gruelling beauty of a land where it does not rain is unique. The sand, dust, rock and sprigs of life that cling on are magical. The purple hues of the Utah desert, the 100 mph rocky, dirt roads and the brutal 20 mph single track are a joy to behold. It’s all legal, all marked and all fantastic. We chased the horizon for hours, skipping through rock fields, smashing clumsily through sand whoops and hopping over groundhog holes. I do love the desert.
Hidden in a valley, in the middle what feels like nowhere you’ll find a designated UHV area. I’ve no idea what UHV means, but in that area is a flowing, vivid sand dune oasis, peppered with trees and cradled by slick rock. In the basin runs a river that no longer flows. Fresh rains had made for magical conditions. We rip around the dunes for 20 minutes, fully aware of our luck at the rain. Beef Jerky under a tree completes a special moment.
Late that day, a long way from the high desert we’re flicking through a pine forest. I constantly push to sit as close to Justin’s tail as possible, hunting him like an excited dog chasing a car. The GoPro footage will look fantastic when I’m this close. I can’t see the trail; plooms of dust mask the lava rock and the setting sun blinds me. The adrenaline pumps, the speedo climbs to north of 60mph.
It’s bloody awesome. We’re hauling. At this point in time I am a hero. The 1190R is holding the ground with poise and confidence; my focus is absol… CRAP. DEER.
I brake hard. Justin brakes harder. The deer brakes too.
The deer realises his mistake and hits the gas. My heart rate maxes out. I produce a little sick. The terrified deer and a petrified Justin miss making love by literal centimetres. Moments don’t come any closer to not being moments.
We slowed down after that.
Rain, Pine and Castro Canyon.
When it rains in the desert, the soil binds together. It’s a special thing to experience. There is no better time to be there. You’ll never feel more heroic on a bike. When it rains in the forest, the soil falls apart. Unless you ride mud, riding mud is a nightmare.
As we headed out on our planned day off to ride some well recommend trails, the heavens opened. We took refuge, watched the direction of the clouds and prayed it stayed aware from our fully water absorbent kit. For the first hour of riding we stayed clear of the water. The ground was still dry, still dusty and still making Justin happy.
But it had rained in Dixie National Forest. It rained hard and we found the aftermath. Around one corner, in a grassland track full of cows, the grip gave way and a smile spread across my mud riding, grease loving, sadistic mug. The grip coefficient plummeted, forward progress became an art in rolling off the gas and the giggles began. Justin is not a mud rider. He left the track twice and fell off at precisely 2mph. It took us around 35 minutes to do a couple of miles. It was tremendous.
The mud ordeal was relatively short lived and gave way to a less slippery but very epic single track. Castro Canyon is one of those trails you’ll seldom find by accident. The trail weaved in and out of the river bed for the better part of 45 minutes, breaking into small sections of fast 4×4 track and rock dodging, tree bashing single track. The sun shone on the freshly dampened ground. The sand stone formations burst from the ground and the serenity was only broken by the purr of a KTM 1190R. If you ever find yourself in Dixie National Forest, Castro Canyon is a must.
Dixie National Forest is a pretty special place. It hides gems among the pines. Our second last day climbed and scrabbled over loose rock to top the hill. The ever present fear of punctures gave way to a walking trail. That walking trail, scattered with frogs and pine needles gave way to the most fantastic of views. A lookout point sat high above the ground, the landscape stretching 40 miles south.
“See that white cliff over there? That’s Zion. We’re going there today.”
“Cool. Is it off-road?” Was about the only response I had to that statement. Ignorance is bliss they say. I was more worried about the riding than something that sounded like a place in a Sci-Fi film. The riding between Strawberry Point and Zion was pretty good. It won’t go down in history as memorable but the winding dirt roads, despite being littered with cars, provided fun, jokes and some deceptively slippery mud holes.
Zion however, was a total slap in the face. Where Moab had been incredible, it was rugged and brutal looking. It was spectacular but also well known to me. Zion should have a warning sign on the entrance.
“You’re about to be hit by a massive sensory explosion. Please pay attention to the road. Don’t die. Don’t run pedestrians over”
Maybe there is a sign like that, I wasn’t really paying attention. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, awe inspiring and the biggest surprise is that almost appears out of nothing. It’s huge, smooth, explosive rock formed as though a god told it too and it was indescribably awesome. I stood in awe so long I got reprimanded by a park ranger for blocking traffic. I will forever be in love with those mountains.
All plans to ride further were scuppered the moment Justin threw out the words “Do ya fancy camping here?” At no point would that be answered with a no. It’d leave us with a long boring ride to LA and a junk load of fireworks we would never light but why would you not camp under that mountain?
One over exuberant $30 fire later, a splash about in river and a tremendous sleep under a thunderstorm, our trip was basically done. We smashed out the 400+ miles to LA by lunch time, gave the sturdy 1190 R back and spent my evening in a AirBnB struggling to assimilate the week we’d just had.
KTM’s 1190R is a great bike from the crate. It’s easily one of the best ADV bikes on the dirt and it always puts a huge smile on my face. But it isn’t perfect. I’ve always wanted to see what could be done with a little time spent fettling the internals of the suspension. The fork has always been a little soft and WP factory services have done something about it.
The fine chaps at WP lent us two of their bikes for the trip. They’ve changed springs and valving on both ends of the bikes and it makes huge difference. It stays higher up in the stroke and deals with big hits and multiple bumps far better. The most confidence inspiring development is actually on the pavement. Instead of diving heavily under braking it’s more controlled. It’s also meant getting a balance between the fork and shock was far easier.
Over the week we fiddled with clickers and continuously wound more preload into the shock to deal with our 100kg backsides and the luggage on board. The bike got better and better as we did so. It struck an awesome balance between appropriate stiffness for riding fast on dirt and not losing comfort on the road. WP FS could have sprung the 1190 to be a beast on dirt but it’d be shockingly uncomfortable on the pavement. They didn’t and I’m glad. Right now it feels like the setting your 1190 R should’ve come with.
If you fancy having the upgrade done to your bike, you can contact WP Factory Services through their website by clicking here.
If you’re outside the UK contact your WP distributer and ask them to speak to WP FS.
Choosing kit for travelling with is important. Especially when you fly and ride, keeping it relatively light, small, bike and plane friendly is not always easy. I flew with all my luggage and camping kit, squeezed it all into a 100 litre Touratech Ortleib bag and was planning to strap it to back of the bike using Rok Straps.
The Rok straps were misplaced and subsequently replaced with some junky cam-lock tie downs from a chain farm shop. The tie downs were awful, but they got us through. Next time, remember the Rok Straps. They’re far better.
The camping kit was pretty straight forward, run of the mill stuff. A Vango Banshee 200 tent, that was a little confusing to build but very easy to take down. It kept me dry, fitted in my bag and had enough space to store my kit. It did a tremendous job all round. A Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z sleeping bag and air mattress made for seriously comfy sleeping. Camping was awesome and in part that was due to the great kit.
Hotels are not something I’m generally excited to put on paper. The Meeker Hotel was something very, very different. It’s an old colonial building that has been either maintainedkept the same or deliberately styled to appear old. It’s cool, the rooms are quirky and the beds super comfy. The crux of it is the enormous quantity of dead and stuffed animals around the place.
Not because taxidermy is weird but that level of taxidermy in an empty hotel, in a very sleepy town is weird.
Thanks to everyone at KTM USA and WP Factory Services. You were crazy friendly and a lot of fun.
Also, thanks to Justin for dragging me along for a week and all your sarcastic humour.
Thanks to Mr and Mrs Dawes for their hospitality and the bed at your lodge.
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